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As the country ponders who should lead us for the next three years and as we’re showered with a bagful of promises that will grow heavier as the polls show the race is a neck and neck affair, I thought it was time to consider the laws of leadership. And in case you’re scratching your head about who should get your vote, maybe you will choose the best leader over the politician that tries to win you over with a new railway or a cheaper alternative piece of infrastructure. 

Lead yourself

A couple of years ago, I did a speech and MC job in Dubai and shared the platform with one of America’s most prolific authors and speakers on leadership, John Maxwell. In 1998, he wrote his bestseller, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, which has sold over one million copies.

Maxwell didn’t write this book to help us pick our political leaders but as he says: “Follow them and people will follow you”. And in owning and running a business of more than 30 people, over the years I have learnt that leadership is the critical matter in determining business, career, wealth-building and personal relationship success.

The reason is, as Maxwell argues, a leader of others has to lead themselves first and the way to do that is to be committed to self-improvement. And it’s something you can never give up on if you want to grow as a leader.

Maxwell’s laws

Let’s look at some of Maxwell’s laws that are relevant to this election and maybe you can use them to pick our leader of the future, or at least for the next three years.

1. Maxwell says “leadership develops daily, not in a day” and looking at both leaders, they haven’t been in the top job of leadership long. Abbott wins on this score but both have been in leadership positions within their parties, though Abbott has had more time in government leadership positions.

2. “The true measure of leadership is influence.” Both leaders have strengths and Gillard’s strength to eliminate Rudd shows she has a Thatcherite drive to win but Abbott’s steps to unseat Malcolm Turnbull shows he too can influence his party. On facts and figures, Gillard’s party room win was more emphatic.

3. “People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.” For both leaders, it’s hard to argue that they’re not strong types who have the support of most of their followers. Malcolm Turnbull would be a reluctant follower but Julia Gillard has someone called Kevin Rudd in her team.

4. “A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him or her.” Let’s compare the sidekicks of the leaders. Hockey apparently won the economic debate but had a $7 billion problem with his figures. Swan has learnt the Treasurer’s game OK but no one thinks he’s an economic heavyweight like Keating or Costello. Labor has lost Lindsay Tanner who was strong but Labor’s team is pretty capable. The Coalition has Barnaby Joyce, who cops a bit from the media, but I reckon he’s underestimated as a representative of the bush. I think both teams match up in terms of quality. Neither have the strength of Hawke and Keating’s lot nor Howard’s A-team but time and experience will help.

5. “People buy into the leader, then the vision.” I suspect neither leader has really captured the imagination of the population and so the vision isn’t complete. They both have been offering visions but we’re not totally convinced about the leader. Gillard has supporters because she’s a woman but she isn’t, in the public’s mind, an easy to like woman. And it isn’t easy for the public to like Abbott either.

I have found after meeting both politicians that they’re more likeable in private than they are on public assessment.

6. “Trust is the foundation of leadership.” I don’t think either leader has got it right at this stage. Gillard has the blood of Kevin Rudd on her hands and when she says, “we were a good government that lost its way”, some people recall that she was a part of the navigation team. Also the failed batts program and the questionable schools building program have to raise question marks over how much we can trust her judgement. On the other hand, Abbott doesn’t have well-known failures in public service, though Labor seems to know of mistakes, but the public isn’t aware of them. Possibly his extreme Catholic views worry some people and his old loose cannon, tough guy image could raise trust question marks.

7. “Leaders find a way for the team to win.” And this is the challenge for both leaders. Labor portrays Abbott as an economic dope but Abbott asks why would you trust these guys with $43 billion for the NBN when they couldn’t organise putting batts into people’s houses.

Don’t know enough

The more I run the leadership tests over Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, there isn’t enough known about them, as leaders, to determine who would be the best. It means we’re stuck with their promises and past performances to make up our minds.

Of course, I would prefer to have a big belief in one of the two leaders but you would have to have one eye to achieve that. 

Humorous story
One last story before I sign off.

When Tony Abbott came on my Sky News Business Channel program to plug his Battlelines book, I told him that when I told people he was coming on the program some said: “Not that arsehole!”

But I said, I told them: “He’s a lot better than you think.”

His reply was both amusing and memorable. “Thanks for the support, Peter.”

I’m not sure about his leadership just yet but I do like his sense of humour.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Thursday, August 19, 2010

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